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A Quick Thought on Being Replaced By Machines

While technology has been replacing humans in the workforce for hundreds of years, the fear of being replaced by machines still hangs heavy on society’s collective consciousness.

May 6, 2014
Related Topics: Employee Engagement, Employee Attitude Surveys, Workforce Planning Systems, Intranets/Extranets, Training Technology, Corporate Culture, Employee Communication, Performance Management, Motivating Employees, Retention
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Machines replace man May 2014

Mad Men is one of my favorite shows. It’s currently in its seventh and final season on AMC.

I’ll be sad to see it leave the air next summer, when the second half of the final season concludes. What I find most interesting is how the show presents societal problems or anxieties we’ve been challenged by and tried to confront, collectively or individually, in our everyday lives for decades.

Take for example, last Sunday’s episode "The Monolith." In that episode, it’s announced that Sterling Cooper and Partners has decided to convert the creative department’s common workspace into a room that will house a gigantic computer. 

The computer is meant to aid the creative process of developing advertising campaigns. After the announcement is made to the entire agency, Michael Ginsberg, one of the copywriters, cries out, “They’re trying to erase us!” 

Likewise, a newly disgraced Don Draper makes a skeptical comment to the computer company’s founder about technology replacing humans in the workforce.

While technology has been replacing humans in the workforce for hundreds of years, the fear of being replaced by machines still hangs heavy on society’s collective consciousness. 

And, just as it has been for many low-wage workers throughout history, that fear is very real. Panera Bread announced its cashiers will be replaced by electronic kiosks where customers will enter their own orders. McDonald's said it, too, is experimenting with similar technology. 

If this technology proves successful for major national fast-food chains, would it one day be odd to see cashiers behind the counter at all fast-food restaurants and retail stores? Could it even be strange to see waiters at all restaurants, in general? Could the occupation of waiter or waitress become a "vintage" profession practiced at upscale restaurants, similar to how barbers, tailors and cobblers now mostly serve an upper-class clientele? 

My answer: eh, maybe. But we’ll probably never live long enough to actually find out. In the meantime, though, the majority of us can continue to warmly embrace new technologies while at the same time worry about how they will replace us all in the office one day and then, eventually, kill us all off a little later. 

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